Senate shifts $200M from schools for roads, environmental cleanup

Potholes in downtown Lansing | Susan J. Demas
Updated, 7:20 p.m.

The Michigan Senate today passed legislation that would divert sales tax dollars that traditionally go to the School Aid Fund (SAF) to fix roads and do environmental cleanups.

The House is expected to take action on what is supposed to be the last day of legislative action in Lansing.

After the vote, Senate Republicans pledged to give schools additional funding. Intense talks on the budget supplemental between term-limited GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative leaders have taken place all week. Snyder and one of his chief aides, Rich Baird, were at the Capitol this afternoon.

Rick Snyder and Brian Calley at their year-end press conference, Dec. 11, 2018 | Ken Coleman

House Bill 4991, sponsored by state Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy), was approved by the Senate on a mostly party-line 26-12 vote. The bill would reduce the rate of the income tax money that goes to the SAF, the main source for K-12 public schools funding.

“Schools will receive additional funding as a part of a supplemental, yet to be passed,” said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority leader Arlan Meekhof (R-Grand Haven).

The shift is $141 million this year and will grow to roughly $174 million next year. The plan allows Snyder to use online sales tax revenue to pay for $114 million for road repairs this year, increasing to $143 million next year.

Another $69 million a year in income tax revenue would be used to support environmental cleanup efforts, known as the “Renew Michigan Fund.”

Rep. Ronnie Peterson (D-Ypsilanti), a House Appropriations committee member, told the Advance that he opposes dollars from the School Aid Fund going toward roads and infrastructure.

Ronnie Peterson

“We have challenges in our public schools system and when we remove dollars for any particular reason it’s unacceptable. Our commitment should be to education, always,” he said.

Sen. Ian Conyers (D-Detroit) agreed.

“No education bills should be taken up in Lame Duck,” Conyers said. “We have newly elected boards and superintendents who should be given ample time to drive results.”

The Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators (MASA) and Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) have voiced opposition. Joining them are the Michigan AFL-CIO and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Michigan and Michigan Education Association (MEA), the state’s leading education unions.

“Every superintendent in Michigan has been forced to work within the ‘do more with less’ model of school administration over the last many years, but I certainly doubt any of us expected to be told we now have to pay to fix Michigan’s roads at the expense of our classrooms as well,” said Mark Greathead, Tri-County Alliance for Public Education vice president and superintendent of Woodhaven-Brownstown Schools. “This proposal would get laughed out of any economics classroom, yet it’s being seriously debated as a plan to move our state forward. It’s absurd and must be stopped.”

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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